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November 21, 2013

Decriminalization not about cost-efficiency

By Mara Biggs

There are 2.5 million people incarcerated in the U.S. Many scholars who study incarceration argue that too much has been criminalized, causing an unreasonably high prison population. They propose implementing new policies and social programs to rehabilitate and deal with the root causes of non-violent offenses like drug use, prostitution and failure to pay child support rather than lock people behind bars.

Whether new policies and programs are put in place or mass-imprisonment continues, taxpayers will still be funding facilitation, so decriminalization is not a matter of cost-efficiency.

“Prison is expensive and doesn’t rehabilitate people. In many cases it makes people higher risk for crime and drug use,” said Dana Hubbard, professor of sociology and criminology at Cleveland State. “In addition, many prisoners report being able to get and use drugs while in prison. Drug treatment can work. I often think that the upper classes of society get drug treatment while poorer Americans get prison for drug addiction. I think we as a society should be better at taking care of people addicted to drugs.”

Dr. Hubbard sees no difference between people who are addicted to alcohol and pain killers and people who are addicted to crack and heroin, because those who are addicted to alcohol and pain killers cause just as many problems in society – Yet, the population that is addicted to crack and heroin is locked up and the other population walks freely among us, said Hubbard.

Comparing criminalization of drug use with prostitution, Dr. Hubbard raises an important concern – Men who pay for prostitutes’ services, or “johns,” get a slap on the wrist and their behavior is “normalized” while “solicitors” receive jail time. It also concerns her that many women who work as prostitutes are underage or begin the behavior as minors and often have histories of sexual abuse and drug addiction. Hubbard said she doesn’t think putting women or men behind bars for prostitution does any good.

Prison doesn’t do any good for those who fail to pay child support either.

“Prison sentences tend to hurt the offenders chances of changing and/or the likelihood that they could get a job and pay their child support,” Hubbard said. “Prison does not reduce recidivism. In fact, it makes people worse."